Okinawa delegation urges City Council to support fight against US military base

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Jamin Kim-Sanders/Staff

Delegates from Okinawa, Japan, visited Berkeley City Council and community members Monday afternoon to call for support in their fight against the controversial relocation of a U.S. military base.

At the meeting, Takuma Higashionna, an Assembly member from Nago, Japan, met Vice Mayor Linda Maio, Councilmember Kriss Worthington and local residents. Higashionna urged Berkeley to support “(working) together with (the) international community” to resist the move, citing safety and environmental concerns regarding the construction of a new military base in Henoko.

Higashionna stressed that the United States has the responsibility to respond and said he expects Berkeley’s government to pass the issue on to the American federal government.

“Are you going to put a base in a place where the the residents, the mayor of Nago City, the governor of Okinawa are all opposing it?” Higashionna said. “That is not U.S. democracy.”

He also expressed frustration with the Japanese media’s failure to cover the issue, which he said prevents the rest of the Japanese population from being aware of and advocating the desires of the Okinawans.

The visit came after the Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission’s resolution — passed at its May meeting — which urges City Council to join the citizens of Okinawa in opposing the construction of a U.S. Marine base at Henoko. The measure also calls for congressional hearings regarding the new base, as well as for the U.S. Department of Defense to refer to an international panel when considering the base’s environmental impact.

City Council passed a similar resolution in 2013, which supported residents of the Jeju Island in South Korea protesting the construction of a U.S. naval base.

“We’re very vocal in this city, and when something like this (measure) does pass, it gets sent out, and people see it all over the world,” said commissioner Mary Nicely, citing boycotts of Burma and South Africa that the city has supported.

But Ellis Krauss, a former professor of international relations and Pacific studies at UC San Diego, said in an email that “these are national and international issues involving other countries and (Berkeley City Council members) have neither the experience nor the expertise to judge these questions.”

The proposed relocation of the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma originates from a 1995 incident in which three American servicemen were convicted of participating in the abduction and rape of an Okinawan schoolgirl. Both governments agreed to reduce the effect of U.S. military presence in Okinawa — where 74 percent of the U.S. military bases in Japan are located — and residents have raised concerns about crime, noise and aircraft accidents.

“I think one of the greatest joys of being a council member is Berkeley’s longtime commitment to justice and Berkeley’s longtime friendship with the people of Japan,” Worthington said at the meeting.

Peace and Justice commissioner Diana Bohn said in an email that she hopes the commission’s resolution will become an agenda item for a City Council meeting in September.

Contact Yuka Koshino and Sally Littlefield at [email protected].